Indian Army unable to plug leak from classified Howitzer field trial report

By Shishir Gupta

In what the Army suspects is a case of “commercial espionage,” pages have been leaked from the classified report of the just-concluded field trial of the M777 ultra-light Howitzer that from the United States this year.

The Army Headquarters has ordered the Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI) to conduct an inquiry.

The acquisition, through the government-to- government foreign military sales route, is worth over $ 647 million for 10 regiments (160) guns. And is meant to equip the Army’s mountain warfare divisions.

Sources told The Indian Express that two computers in the office of Commander, Artillery Brigade, in Sikkim, and another computer hard drive in an artillery unit in Gurgaon have been seized by the Military Intelligence for forensic tests in order to “pin-point the leaks.”

These units were involved in the M 777 field trial which was completed in December 2010. The report was finalised last month.

Five pages of this report mysteriously reached the Army Headquarters last month alongwith a note urging it to scrap the US order.

Typed in bold letters, the note threatens Army Chief General V K Singh that he would meet the same fate as that of his predecessor in the Adarsh Housing Society scam if the military went ahead with the US gun deal.

The probe, which will include examination of phonecall data records as well, is in a key stage and those behind the leak are expected to be identified soon, sources said.

The report is said to have examined the M 777 in light of the results of the trial (General Staff Qualitative Requirements) of Singapore Technologies Kinetics Pegasus gun.

The Singapore company was blacklisted by the Defence Ministry in June 2009 after it figured among the seven companies named in the CBI FIR against former Ordnance Factory Board Director General Sudipto Ghosh.

With the gun-acquisition process delayed for over 25 years, the Army, in consultation with the Defence Ministry, decided not to prepare a fresh GSQR. And let the US gun be tested against the previously shortlisted Pegasus because both are 155 mm and 39 caliber.

“The report on the US gun has been leaked by vested interests to put the acquisition into controversy,” said a senior official.

The Army Headquarters, sources said, has no plans to slow down the acquisition process and will defend its choice when the case is taken up by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by Defence Minister A K Antony. The final word on the acquisition is with the Cabinet Committee on Security.

  • In the backdrop of an assertive China and unstable Pakistan, India needs a light-weight rapidly deployable 155 mm field Howitzer for firepower support, particularly in mountainous terrain.
  • India does not have an ultra light Howitzer in its arsenal and has not acquired any 155 mm field gun since the Bofors deal was signed on March 24, 1986.
  • The Indian artillery modernisation programme is a permanent work in progress and in dire straits with Bofors guns now being cannibalised for spare parts to make others battleworthy. This is due to the ban imposed on Bofors after the corruption scandal during the Rajiv Gandhi regime.
  • With the nuclear factor in play, field Howitzers with precision guided ammunition will be central to destroying the war waging potential of an adversary in future limited wars.

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